Keeping Alaska clean: Superfund and FUD sites, left polluted from practices of the past, are still undergoing cleanup and will for many more years.
As more of the Last Frontier is developed, regulations have been put into place to ensure that as progress is made, its results do not harm the state's environment or adversely affect the people, including Native tribes, who live off the land. These pro-active environmental efforts also include the remediation of certain military and industrial sites, polluted decades before, which are now the focus of intensive cleanup efforts.
Back in December 1980, Congress created Superfund as part of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation and Liability Act (CERCLA) as a way to eliminate the health and environmental threats posed by hazardous waste sites throughout the nation. Administered by the Environmental Protection Agency, Superfund uses government funds to clean up the nation's worst hazardous waste sites, which are identified on a National Priorities List (NPL). In Alaska, these sites currently include Adak Naval Air Station in Adak; Arctic Surplus and Eielson Air Force Base in Fairbanks; Elmendorf Air Force Base, Fort Richardson and Standard Steel & Metals Salvage Yard in Anchorage; and Fort Wainwright, near Fairbanks.
"We started cleaning up Superfund sites in Alaska in the 1990s, and at this point, most of these projects are pretty mature," explained Jacques Gusmano, remedial program manager, Superfund, EPA Anchorage. "Most of them now have treatment systems in place and we're in the final years of cleanup. The toxic and volatile chemicals are gone, and we're working to clean up residual contaminants, like lower level PCBs and heavy-end petroleum products."
Though much of the original work was "dig and haul," especially in the more remote sites, much of today's cleanup is done through vapor extraction of "sparging," which is when air is blown into an aquifer to promote the growth of natural bacteria. "While the technologies that we are using are not new and have previously been used in aquariums and wastewater treatment plants, they have been enhanced over the years to become even more effective at breaking down contaminants," said Gusmano.
Every five years, Superfund sites are reviewed to see how the cleanup is progressing, and Gusmano says that Alaska is well on its way to reaching its goals. "Alaska Battery Enterprises in Fairbanks has been deleted from the NPL and Standard Steel in Anchorage is closed," he said. "I expect that Arctic Surplus in Fairbanks will be de-listed by the end of the year. Ketchikan Pulp, which is an NPL equivalent, is still on track, and though the military sites are taking longer because they are so large, they are all stabilized and no wastes are leaving those sites."
Gusmano estimates that Alaska is about 10 years from having the majority of its sites finished, though the military sites, especially those with major landfills, might take 20 years more.
The military spends tens of millions per year on site cleanup, or roughly $4 million to $10 million per site. "It costs a lot to manage the systems and to track the water and air quality," Gusmano said, "and they have gone beyond the minimum cleanup required. Their proactive stewardship of these projects has been quite beneficial to the state in that the research that the military has done can be used to clean up other sites."
Gusmano gave the example of a leak-control technology that is being used by the oil industry that was first developed at a military Superfund site. He also credits those cleaning the sites with working with local populations to ensure that what is left behind has no negative effects on their lifestyles. "Especially in subsistence areas, people are worried about how contaminants can affect their food sources," he said. "The military has done a lot, including toxicity tests on subsistence foods, to make sure that there is no residual waste left behind."
The state also is making sure that there will be no new Superfund-type sites developed. "We know how to deal with waste now, unlike in the past when fuel was just dumped, and even used to oil the roads for dust prevention," said Gusmano. "We've got laws in place now about how petroleum products can be disposed of, and companies have to have contingency plans in place when they store fuels in tanks. We have made really great progress in protecting the public and the environment."
FORMERLY USED DEFENSE SITE PROGRAM
Just as the military is cleaning up Superfund sites, it is also taking the lead in cleaning up FUDS, or Formerly Used Defense Sites, which is property that was owned, leased or possessed by the United States under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of Defense prior to Oct. 17, 1986. This Department of Defense property also includes manufacturing facilities owned by the DOD, but operated by contractors.
The Alaska FUDS program contains 601 properties with 172 projects that still require remediation. Estimated to cost more than $1 billion to complete, Alaska has the third largest FUDS program in the nation.
"Our Fiscal Year 2005 FUDS program is budgeted at $30.5 million," explained Patricia Richardson, Alaska District Public Affairs, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. "In FY06, the request in the president's budget is for $14.6 million, though in the past, Congress has added to the amount in what is termed a 'Congressional plus-up.'"
According to an information paper on the FUDS program, sites are prioritized through a DOD relative risk evaluation that considers the type of contamination, the potential pathways that the contamination could move, and whether there are any human or ecological receptors present. In Alaska, approximately 68 percent of the FY05 budget will be used at Kodiak ($5.6 million); St. Lawrence Island ($4.7 million); Mt. Edgecumbe ($4.3 million); Umiat ($2.4 million); Moses Point ($2.3 million); and Cold Bay ($1.5 million).
In 2004, the Alaska District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, won a Secretary of the Army Environmental Award for the work that it had performed on a FUDS site on Annette Island. The Delivery Team shaved five years off the cleanup schedule by reducing the number of disputed sites from more than 150 to less than 35, and saved $900,000 over the course of two fiscal years. To date, 65 tons of contaminated soil has been removed and four pounds of liquid mercury has been recovered and recycled. Ten sites are in the closure process, with work on the remaining sites expected to take up to three more years.
CORPORATE CLEAN UP
Often as important as the clean up of major waste areas is the efforts that smaller businesses make to protect the environment. One of the best ways that they can do this is by recycling or reusing their waste products.
Emerald Alaska in Anchorage, along with its parent company, Emerald Services in Tacoma, is the largest recycler of fluids and solvents in the Northwest, recycling 15 million gallons per year of waste oil, solvents, and manufactured antifreeze. "We collect used oil from auto centers and refine it for resale to industrial clients," explained Rhonda Strucher of business development. "We also recycle oil filters, solvents and paint thinners, absorbents, and have an antifreeze exchange program though our parent company." Emerald Alaska also processes benzene-contaminated wastewater at its facility in Anchorage, which is then treated and discharged through the municipality.
In October 2004, Emerald Alaska purchased Alaska Pollution Control, which has enabled the company to serve a larger geographical area, as well as to expand its customer base. It also has recently become the exclusive distributor of SystemOne Parts Washers, a vacuum-distillation system that will allow trucking companies, car dealerships and even businesses on the North Slope to recycle parts washer solvents on-site.
"This state-of-the-art technology actually eliminates all of the waste product, which saves companies time and money, and increases productivity," explained Shaun Tucker, project manager and outside sales. "They don't have to ship their waste solvent to the Lower 48, which can save them upward of $500 a drum every six to eight weeks in disposal costs and new product purchases."
Though transportation costs can be a problem, Tucker says an even bigger obstacle in protecting the environment is the fact that many businesses are still not familiar with the regulations that govern disposal of waste products. "Some of these companies have been sitting on hazardous waste since 1985," he said. "People need to be proactive and understand what their environmental responsibilities are."
To this end, Emerald Alaska will go into a business and inventory its current waste products. "We'll educate them on what is hazardous, proper drum marking, waste segregation and generator status requirements, as well as what can be recycled and how they can minimize waste," said Strucher. "We take great pride in providing turnkey environmental services, including consulting with our clients on recycling, waste management practices, industrial cleaning and 24-hour spill response."
Emerald Alaska also works on larger-scale projects, including the Defense Logistics Agency contract that it was awarded in March and has managed for 5 years. Through this contract, it handles the waste on all of the military bases in the state, and it also does a large amount of environmental work for utility companies throughout Alaska. Management is currently looking at expanding into larger soil remediation projects.
Another area of growing interest in the environmental field is EMS, or the design of Environmental Management Systems. "The Department of Defense directed that all federal facilities have these systems in place by the end of the year," explained Laura Noland, office director, Shaw Environmental Inc. Shaw is currently designing an EMS for an Alaska military base during which it looks at all of the site's operations and procedures that affect the environment and finds ways to address concerns. The company most recently designed a training video, which explains how each operation at the base can be EMS-compliant.
"Clients come to us and ask what they can do to address environmental concerns while reducing costs," explained Noland of the full-service company, which also provides data quality management for mines and provides design and engineering services for large transportation infrastructure projects. "We can provide them with all of the help they need to become compliant with federal and state regulations, as well as help with any environmental assessment issues."
As security has tightened around the world since Sept. 11, 2001, it has raised even more issues on the environmental front. Tighter regulations on the transport of hazardous materials has required companies to make sure that they understand the new federal rules, and has also required them to add additional training to avoid security breaches. It has also required airports to deal with a new problem--the disposal of confiscated hazardous wastes.
"All personal property that is confiscated by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has to go somewhere," explained Paul Nielsen, sales manager, PSC Environmental Services. "As of April 14, butane lighters were prohibited on planes, which means that all of that waste needs to be transported and disposed of. This includes hazardous materials that recreational travelers bring in, including camping supplies like bear spray and mace."
Nielsen says that the amount of waste collected at TSA checkpoints has been sizable, though the field is still in its infancy. The company also sees potential growth in the environmental restoration of decommissioned facilities and closed industrial plants due to Alaska's aging infrastructure.
"As the state does additional oil exploration and development, and possibly opens new areas to drilling, we expect it to also spur environmental activities," Nielsen said. "New projects now require much more oversight, because we pay much more attention to how these projects impact the environment than ever before."
"When you do business in Alaska, one of the first things that people want to talk about is how you operate, and if your company is running in an environmentally sale manner," he added. "We are proud of our pristine image, and we are committed to keeping companies compliant."